FOX, Winstonup in smoke

Jun 24, 2003 7:47 AM

The biggest disappointment with seeing the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup/Nextel season nearing the halfway point is that the FOX Network will no longer be covering races.

NBC takes over the reigns through the end of the season starting next Saturday night in Daytona Beach. The "Peacock" does a decent job with its broadcasts, but FOX has raised the bar to an unreachable level.

This will be last idle weekend for the circuit drivers, who will hit the track for 19 consecutive races until the Nov. 16 season finale in Miami. The chase for the championship will heat up considerably beginning at Daytona next week. Points leader Matt Kenseth, looking every bit like a champion, has seen his odds from Las Vegas sports Books scattered anywhere from Even to 3-1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr (5-2) has been breathing down his neck, but the drivers who may present the best value at this stage are Bobby Labonte (6-1) and Kurt Busch (5-1). Labonte leads the series with nine Top 5 finishes, two more than any other driver. Busch already has three wins on the season and will be tough to hold off.

At the beginning of the season a few Las Vegas books offered OVER/UNDER wins on the season for the top drivers. Here’s how some of the drivers are doing at the midway point with the number that was placed on them.

Jeff Gordon (4½ OV -120): One win on the season and close several times. The bettors bet the number UNDER to —145.

Tony Stewart (4½ UN —140): Also, one win. The number was moved slightly to UNDER —150. Strong closer and should come close to the number. Likely to stay under.

Kurt Busch (4½ UN —130): Three wins thus far and probably not done. Bettors moved the number to UN —180.

Bobby Labonte (2½ UN —120): One win this season and several second places. Two more wins look obtainable. The number was bet under all the way to —200 due to his poor 2002 season.

Dale Jarrett (2½ UN —135): One win. Not likely we’ll see him anywhere close for the remainder of the season. This team is lost in space somewhere. Perhaps they’ll return next year the way Labonte turned things around. The number closed at UNDER —150.

Mark Martin (½ UN —120): This was the number that created the most action. All Martin has to do is win a race, something he did once last season. Has been close a few times, but hasn’t taken checkers yet. The OVER was bet all the way to —200.

Race betting up

The popularity of wagering on motor sports will likely surpass the previous season for the fifth straight year. Reports from many books are that both handle and win is up from the previous year.

This weekend, the Indy Racing League goes to Richmond’s 3/4-mile track this Saturday night. Gil de Ferran (6-1) won last year’s race and will be one of the favorites. Station Casinos is reporting that IRL wagering has really taken a swing upward in handle, likely due to the public’s familiarity with the drivers.

The Milwaukee Mile gets a visit from the other two NASCAR series. Saturday, the trucks run with Bobby Hamilton Sr. (4-1) as the favorite. Sunday, the Busch series takes center stage with Scott Riggs (4-1) and Bobby Hamilton Jr. (5-1) running the best over the last month.